Over the years, Warren Haynes has become known to many different people through various different projects. He is known by the masters of his trade as one of the top in their field. Haynes rose to instant notoriety when he took on the role of lead guitarist and vocalist in the Allman Brothers Band years after founding member Duane Allman passed away. But that was only the beginning. Since then, Haynes has brought his style of play to the iconic riffs of Jerry Garcia as a member of The Dead and has successfully fronted his own band, Gov’t Mule as well as play acoustic gigs internationally. And it does not stop there. For 22 years, he has held his annual Christmas Jam in Asheville, NC that benefits Habitat for Humanity. To say that Haynes is a busy man would be an understatement of huge proportions. If all of the aforementioned wasn’t enough, he has now taken on a new project with The Warren Haynes Band and has a new album due out in early May.
On the new record, Rolling Stone said that he "channels James Brown." The album in its entirety is filled with soulful and funky offerings that truly do display Haynes at the top of his vocal game. It is an inspired effort based upon songs that Haynes has held near and dear to his heart since he was a child. The best part is that it all translates seamlessly into the live setting.
Haynes took a moment with Honest Tune to discuss everything from songwriting, charity and collaboration and the joys of playing music.
Honest Tune: Looking forward at festival season, it officially kicks off for you at Wanee then Mountain Jam and Hangout Festival. Hangout was quite a different festival experience last year especially with the occurrences that surrounded it with the Deepwater Horizon spill. Plus, it is a festival on the beach. It’s hard to beat that. When you think back on it now, do you have any standout memories or anything special in the works for this year’s event? Perhaps Grace (Potter) will join you on stage again and maybe lend a pipe to some of this new material that you have with Man In Motion.
Warren Haynes: Well, it is always good when Grace is around. Playing [Fleetwood Mac’s "Gold Dust Woman"] with her was definitely fun last year, so I hope we can work it out this year because it is always a blast. And the same thing goes for all of our extended musical family.
I am really psyched that [Hangout Festival] decided to continue and that it was successful and they want to keep it going for the future because I think that part of the country needs a great festival so I look forward to hanging out and playing with friends and having a little family reunion.
HT: I saw your sound check performance this year at Christmas Jam when you guys played the William Bell track ("Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday"). I immediately googled "Warren Haynes Holiday." The reason why I did it was because it sounded like you had been playing it for years, yet that was actually the first stage performance with the collective band to my knowledge. The chemistry in this current [Warren Haynes Band] ensemble was just so natural then and I assume the same will hold true with the recent personnel changes. What do you attribute that to?
Warren: Well when I made the record, I just put together a list of who I would like my first choices of who I would like to be involved with the record and who I felt like would best interpret the music. Then everyone was available. Now for the tour, some of the guys have their own bands and tours that they’re committed to so I wasn’t able to get everybody from the record. But the band that we put together for the tour is amazing. I think you can tell when you work with musicians if there is an instant chemistry or not and then of course taking that chemistry further is what it is all about.
HT: And like you said, you have gone with a really stellar list of players in your road lineup with Terence Higgins and Nigel Hall among others. What is it about the cast of players that you have put together for the tour that you felt could adequately exhibit the sound from the record , and that in turn, you are wanting to put forth in the live performance?
Warren: Well there is just that kind of unspoken thing that happens when you play together and you don’t have to talk about it. The way that everybody interprets the music individually kind of works without having to analyze it or dissect it.
HT: That is for us in the media and crowd to do.
Warren: (Laughs) Yeah definitely. You know, music is a language and each different type of music is a language of its own. So I am just really trying to put together the best band that I feel like can interpret this particular music and then we will start adding songs to the repertoire as we go.
HT: What was the difference in the way that you approached the writing process for Man In Motion as opposed to say the approach you take with Gov’t Mule?
Warren: Well, writing is one of those things that changes from song to song, ya know? Throughout my life, I have mostly written lyrics first and then added the music later, but in recent years I have been kind of doing the opposite just to shake it up and do things differently. It doesn’t mean that all the songs are written either way. A lot of time if I am writing with a project in mind, then I’ll be thinking about the strength of the music and it’s really good to have some sort of actual project so that you can envision what it’s going to sound like when you’re writing. But then other times, I am just writing for the song itself and then I decide later whether it is a Gov’t Mule song, an Allman Brothers song, or if it is something else that may belong on one of my solo records.
So the process itself…I don’t know how much different it is other than in some cases trying to write specifically for the sound of a certain band., so once I had made my mind up to make this record, that is what I was doing.
HT: Over the years, you have probably been asked to answer this question countless times, but I am going to ask it anyway. You have been asked to fill some major shoes over the years…Jerry Garcia, Duane Allman… did any of that come or does it continue to come with any external or even intrinsic pressure where you could have decided to just go out and mimic the sound that came before you? The reason I ask is because you never really have done that and many may have had they been placed in a similar set of circumstances.
Warren: Well, I have never felt, I guess most importantly, the pressure of someone expecting me to play or sing a certain way in either one of those roles. It has always been left up to me as far as how to approach the music. Starting with when I joined the Allman Brothers in 1989, it was always my decision as to how much of Duane Allman’s influence to show and how much to interject my own personality. The same was true when I started playing with the guys in The Dead. In neither case did they want me to just pay tribute. That has never been what any of these bands are looking for.
When a band suffers a loss like [the death of a founder], they try to put together some sort of new chemistry that rivals the old chemistry but based on strong individual personalities that work well together.
A certain amount of [paying tribute] comes about automatically when playing that music. Not only is it a sign of respect but it is also kind of an automatic, but it has always been left up to me as to where to draw the line. That has made it easier and less daunting I think and of course in both cases, working with the bands that are just very encouraging and have always been non-judgmental.
HT: Going back to Man In Motion, I was looking over a list of soul tracks that inspired you and the tracks listed (Otis Redding’s "Try a Little Tenderness" and The Temptations’ "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" amongst others) are timeless. With Man In Motion, do you feel that the same timeless qualities are as inherent as it is in those tracks that you put together for the playlist?
Warren: Well, I hope so. I think that the record sounds like it could’ve been recorded in the past many years. It doesn’t sound like it necessarily would’ve been recorded in this decade or the previous decade. It kind of has a sound that defies the time period I believe because that is something that was very important to us when we were making the record. My co-producer Gordie Johnson who engineered the record is really great at being able to capture sounds that help elevate the music without dating it.
HT: Finally, your charitable efforts over the years are really notable. In your opinion, what is it about music that causes it to go hand in hand with charity?
Warren: Well I thing that whenever musicians play in a charity situation, it reminds us of why we started playing music in the first place. It wasn’t about money or fame or success, it was about a feeling that you get when you are playing music and how that feeling is better when the music is better. That’s what makes you want to get better at your craft. Playing for charity brings that part of the musicians out. This is what we do. We play music. So to take a day out of your life and do what you do everyday anyway and realize that the time and energy helps build homes for families who can’t afford houses, that is a pretty amazing feeling.
HT: Thank you for your time sir.
Warren: And thank you.
Warren Haynes Band’s Man In Motion is due out on 5/10/11 on Stax Records. The Band is currently on tour through mid-August with numerous festival stops along the way.